ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:
With Washington consumed by a fight over spending, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee said today that his party shouldn’t be afraid of a government shutdown, arguing that such a stand-off would send a powerful signal to the public about the GOP’s commitment to cutting the budget.
“I personally think there's nothing wrong with a government shutdown,” Michael Steele told us on ABC’s “Top Line” today.
“I've been an advocate for it over six, seven months now for the simple reason it is the shocker. It is the reality check that the spenders need to have, that those who are trying to chart a different course need to have, whether they are Republicans or Democrats in the Congress.”
He continued: “Republicans right now have an opportunity to put down some bright-line markers here on spending. I hope they do. I haven't seen it yet. I'm hoping that we will see it in the next week.”
Democrats and Republicans last week reached a short-term agreement to keep the government running through the end of next week. But without further action by Congress, a partial government shutdown would start next Friday – a situation few in either party on Capitol Hill are eager to see develop.
Steele also offered his take on the slowly emerging 2012 presidential field. He noted that each of the major contenders has issues to cope with that appear to be holding them back from full declarations of candidacy.
“Each of these candidates are coming to the table, sort of — not tepidly but with a little bit of reservation. And I think that you'll see over the spring and summer that amp up a little bit more. But I think they're anxious to get in there. They just want to make sure when they do, they land with a big bump not a thud. … Barack Obama is a formidable, formidable opponent. Not just … being the incumbent president but as a candidate.”
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., has “a health-care elephant in the room he's got to deal with among the base,” Steele said.
Asked about how Romney’s opponents are portraying his health care law as inspiration for President Obama’s national law, Steele said:
“I'm sure that's a talking point his team does not want to have out there. But the reality of it is, it is — I mean, it is what it is. And I think that, yeah, he's going to have to road-test some messages. The Republican base in particular is very skeptical of the Massachusetts plan, the overall Obamacare strategy.”
“And I think that for Mitt Romney — and I think he can do this, is to lay out very cleverly and very articulately what it is he wants to do with health care should he become president, number one. How did that factor into decisions he made as governor of his state and putting in place the current plan there, and how there are differences between Obamacare and what he did.”
“And I think that what's happened is the Dems have been able to very cleverly been able to sort of mesh the two so they become one in the same. But there are some distinct differences and I think it's going to be important for the president — I mean for Mitt Romney to make clear what those are."
Steele added that he hopes changes in the primary calendar and delegate allocation that he put in place as RNC chairman will help the party spread out the voting season a bit, to get the eventual nominee maximum exposure:
“We're hoping to have a nominee sometime around late April, early May depending on how things go,” Steele said.
As for his own immediate future, Steele said he’s hoping to land a gig as a political commentator, in addition to some writing projects.
“I'm looking at doing some television. I'm certainly doing some writing. I'd love to come and hang out with you guys a little bit,” Steele said. “And, of course, you know, to make some money because I've got to keep the kid in school and, you know, get him graduated.”
Watch the full interview with Michael Steele HERE.
We also chatted with National Journal’s Yochi Dreazen, who makes a provocative case in the new issue of the magazine that President Obama’s failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may be for the best.
Watch that segment of “Top Line” HERE.